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Nichols Defense Rests Its Case After Jury Hears More From Wife

By Lois Romano
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 12, 1997; Page A02

DENVER, Dec. 11óMarife Nichols was called to the stand by her husband's defense lawyers to speak for Oklahoma City bombing suspect Terry L. Nichols, to perhaps offer him an alibi and to portray him as a family man. But the story she told of their unusual and distant seven-year marriage may have done her husband more harm than good.

Before the defense rested its case this morning, the 24-year-old woman characterized a marriage that was anything but conventional. Over the past two days, Marife Nichols agreed that her husband had misled her about breaking off his relationship with Timothy J. McVeigh, later convicted in the bombing, and that Terry Nichols appeared to be living a secret life that included numerous aliases and surreptitious storage lockers about which she knew little.

Her repeated answer to prosecutors' questions about her husband's odd activities: "I don't know. I didn't ask him."

Terry Nichols, 42, faces the death penalty if convicted on any of the 11 counts of conspiracy and murder in the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, which killed 168 people. Testimony in the case ended today and closing arguments are scheduled for Monday.

McVeigh, Nichols's Army buddy, was sentenced to death for the crime in June.

Marife Nichols admitted under cross-examination today that her husband had lied to her when he told her he was going to Omaha to pick up McVeigh three days before the bombing, when he in fact drove to Oklahoma City. Prosecutors have alleged that Nichols helped McVeigh stash the getaway car to be used April 19 after McVeigh detonated the Ryder truck packed with explosives.

Nichols did not tell his wife the truth until seconds before he turned himself into the Herington, Kan., police on April 21. "He told me that he was lying to me about Omaha," Marife Nichols told the federal jury of seven men and five women.

She has described marrying Nichols when she was 17 years old, living a nomadic life of moving from state to state, and leaving her husband for extended trips back to her homeland, the Philippines.

Nichols had turned to a mail-order bride business in the Philippines to find a wife after his first marriage collapsed. Marife Nichols confirmed under cross-examination that she once quoted her husband as saying that "Young ones were easier to train."

Nichols and Marife Torres were married in Cebu in November 1990, but Nichols returned to Michigan without his bride. On the stand, Marife Nichols said she couldn't recall the exact date of her wedding.

She joined Nichols the following July -- pregnant with another man's child. Two years later, that child was found dead with a plastic bag over his head at the Nichols family farmhouse in Michigan in what was ruled an accident. The couple now have two children together, the youngest born two years ago this month when Nichols was incarcerated.

Marife Nichols testified that when Nichols was nervously driving around Herington on April 21, she asked him: "Are you involved in this?"

"And he said no," she said.

In testimony Wednesday, Marife Nichols was unable to say where her husband was on the morning for which he needed an alibi -- April 18 -- when the government alleges he helped McVeigh build a 4,000-pound truck bomb at Geary Lake fishing park near Herington.

The defense's eight-day case was aimed at generating confusion among jurors by poking holes in the government's scenario, with the specter of additional accomplices and a second Ryder truck. At times, it seemed like the defense was trying to put the mysterious suspect John Doe No. 2 -- who was never identified and never found -- on trial, instead of Nichols.

Prosecutors today offered a brief rebuttal to counter witnesses who say they saw the Ryder truck at Geary Park earlier than April 17, when McVeigh rented it in Junction City, Kan.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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